Saturday, November 24, 2007

Food and Place, volume 5 (San Francisco)

I have nooooo idea. From a half dozen visits to the Bay Area, I do have some fragmentary food recollections:

Fried calamari in Oakland, in a seafood place right near the base of the Bay Bridge. Full Sail Ale in a little waterfront bistro near the ferry station. (That's the ferry station in the picture. Ferries go to Oakland and Sausalito and some other places. They're cute.) A robust pasta and sausage dish in an Italian place in South San Francisco. (Who eats in South San Francisco?) Mexican food in San Leandro next to the tiny marina. Ribs in Berkeley. Salmon in El Cerrito.

But a culinary sine qua non for San Fran? I don't know. Irish coffee? Something from Chinatown? Ghirardelli chocolate? Sourdough bread? Rice-a-Roni? Seriously, I have no final candidates, chosen nominees, narrowed suggestions, greatest ideas, or short lists. There are just too damn many choices.

So let's use this post as an excuse to play a song. It's a food post, you say? Yeah.

Ed, tour guide and driver and chief mechanic for the Old Blue Bus, put me onto Arhoolie Records, a label headquartered in El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco. Their catalog is amazingly eclectic. One of the artists recorded in the Bay Area is Omar Sharriff. (He's a Texan whose real name is Dave Alexander. He changed it very late in his career. I don't know why.) Sharriff's song called "San Francisco Can Be Such A Lonely Town" is my favorite. I think everyone should listen to it and buy some records from Arhoolie. The hell with Tony Bennett.

I haven't figured out how to embed MP3 files into this blog, so the next best thing is to take you to the site where you can listen. Try this link to Sharriff's 1971 album Raven.

In addition to its unmatched culinary culture, its wonderful music, its beautiful architecture, and its spectacular (if dangerous) geology, San Francisco has a marvelous literary history. Richard Brautigan and his pals at City Lights Books had a lot to do with that. Here's one of many Brautigan poems set in or around San Francisco.


Baudelaire was sitting
in a doorway with a wino
on San Francisco’s skidrow.
The wino was a million
years old and could remember
dinosaurs.Baudelaire and the wino
were drinking Petri Muscatel.
“One must always be drunk,”
said Baudelaire.“I live in the American Hotel,”
said the wino. “And I can
remember dinosaurs."
“Be you drunken ceaselessly,”
said Baudelaire.


Since I cannot fulfill the promise of this entry (that is, name the signature dish of San Francisco), here are some entertaining random facts. The airport is in Burlingame. They have a very nice public transportation system. The Haas family used to own Levi Strauss and the Oakland A's. They gave enough money to Cal Berkeley to have the business school named for them, and enough money to the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) to have the lobby named after them. We aren't related, which is a downright shame.

OK, so you try to name the one dish that is emblematic of The City by the Bay. I dare you.

Next stop: Kansas City (for real, maybe) or Houston.


Rob Hardy said...

I thought we were going to Kansas City next.

Jim H. said...


I missed the exit? Again?

You're right, Ithe posted itinerary did name Kansas City as the next stop. I guess I got distracted by all the fish talk and the fact the our daughter spent the Thanksgiving break in San Francisco. She called every day with glowing reports of the scenery and food and climate.